Lee Mackenzie: Nothing prepares you for telling teachers they have failed a lesson

I had the pleasure of interviewing an experienced ELT professional based in Colombia. We talked about a variety of topics that may interest developing teachers who are thinking of getting advanced qualifications. I hope you enjoy it!

Lee Mackenzie is a teacher, teacher trainer, and researcher from the UK. After obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in English in 2004, he spent several years working in Europe. Lee completed his Delta1 in 2010 and became a CELTA tutor two years later. He was responsible for running the first CELTA course at IH Lima in 2015. Lee then moved to Colombia, and he has been working as a lecturer and researcher at Universidad del Norte in Barranquilla since July 2017. In addition to a Master’s degree in TESOL, he also holds a PhD in Education.

Lee Mackenzie: Nothing prepares you for telling teachers they have failed a lesson

Let’s begin with a question about Barranquilla. How do you cope with the hot and humid weather in the city?

Two words: air conditioning. It’s necessary to have it on even at night!

You spent a year working in Lima. Are there any similarities between the ELT markets in Colombia and Peru?

I’d say the discourse of associating English with the West and importing ‘better’ methodologies from those countries. There are also issues in teacher education and the tendency to talk in the classroom like you are on a stage. Students often don’t get many opportunities to speak, and the learning that they have comes from private tuition or private education because there aren’t a lot of resources in the public sector. It doesn’t seem to be a priority for a lot of governments in the region, so it’s not a surprise that the levels of English are low in both countries.

I started my teaching career in Colombia through one of the volunteer programmes supported by the government. Do you think that this strategy is effective?

I actually wrote a paper on the Colombian government’s bilingualism policies, in which I analysed the ways they lead to social injustices. Some of those programmes don’t require teaching qualifications, but the foreign teachers are paid the same salary as public school teachers, who have a lot more work to do. It’s strange to see foreigners being promoted over locals for jobs that the locals can do. I think that when you look at the education system as a whole, they should be using the resources they have in Colombia and empowering the local teachers.

You have been a CELTA tutor for nine years. Could you briefly explain how one can land this position?

I think it’s about being in the right place at the right time. First of all, you need to work for a centre running CELTA courses, and they need to be willing to train you up. There is a lot of hard work, which is often unpaid, and then you have to do three courses at the same centre. Of course, now it’s not easy to fly to other countries to deliver courses there because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I see CELTA tutoring as a niche in the private sector, but there also other opportunities that are financially more interesting. For example, I’d recommend getting an MA and looking for work at universities.

The online CELTA is now a permanent option. What do you think of courses delivered fully online?

I think we are moving towards the hybrid model now. Some things work better face-to-face, but other ones can be done online, so I think the blended model of the CELTA would provide a good balance. You could do the teaching practice in person and other components such as the assignments online. It’s true that the face-to-face CELTA doesn’t fully prepare you for teaching online, yet there are many things missing when teaching only online; for example, grouping students on Zoom and in the physical classroom is completely different.

Do you think that having only a CELTA is enough for teachers?

Think about other professions that allow you to take a four-week course and start working full-time; it usually doesn’t happen. The CELTA just gives people an idea of what they are doing. Some candidates struggle with the course because it’s really intensive, so it can put you through your paces if you aren’t academically minded. An interesting fact is that most CELTA holders leave the profession within two years. Those who stay in ELT typically do the Delta or specialise in an area. There is so much to learn about English and how to teach it, and you can’t cover many different strategies and methodologies on a one-month course.

What was your Delta experience like?

I did my Delta at IH Barcelona, where Scott Thornbury used to work. I was lucky to be trained by Neil Forrest, who is an excellent tutor. During my eight-week Module Two course, I felt like a footballer who has to perform at their best every single match. I think it’s really difficult to sustain that level of performance in a stressful environment, and as a perfectionist I was disappointed when I taught a terrible lesson. I got through it in the end thanks to my tutors’ support, and the Delta helped me get my Master’s faster thanks to credit exemptions. Sadly, IH Barcelona closed last year. It does feel like an end of an era when big schools like that disappear.

Did the Delta prepare you for your role as a teacher trainer?

I think there is a gap there. When you come off the Delta, you’re not prepared to give feedback to people who have just taught their first lesson in English. You sometimes have to tell someone that they have failed their lesson, which can make you feel terrible. I don’t think anything prepares you for that, so you have to learn through experience. The best thing to do is to make candidates understand what went wrong and why they didn’t meet the criteria, but some of them aren’t open to accepting negative feedback.

Congratulations for completing your PhD! Do you believe that it’s worth pursuing a doctoral degree?

I know this sounds like a cliché, but it has made me a better person. I think that’s the most important reason for anybody to study anything. I don’t take things for granted and now I look at them from a more critical perspective. In my thesis, I focused on how education can promote social justice as well as injustice. When it comes to job prospects, a PhD itself isn’t enough because you also need to be publishing. If you want to work in a university, a PhD is obviously a big help. You can also benefit from it financially, which is another point to consider.

I really liked your interview with Marek Kiczkowiak on native speakerism and discrimination in ELT job ads. As someone who has been researching this area, do you see any positive signs when it comes to these issues?

I recommend looking up Robert Phillipson’s work on language ideologies. He says there are five fallacies in ELT, and native speakerism is one of them. It’s important that people like Marek speak about the issue because not everyone is aware of these ideologies. We just have to keep pushing and challenging in very gentle ways. In my paper on job advertisements in Colombia, I looked at posts on Facebook. What I recommend is reporting those ads that are discriminatory. Even as a teacher, you can ask your students what they mean when they refer to native English speakers. I think there are some encouraging signs. Nobody was talking about the issue twenty years ago, so the fact that many people are speaking out against native speakerism shows that things are changing.


1 The qualification was called DELTA at that time. Its name was amended to Delta in 2011, and the current title is used on this blog even when referring to courses that took place before the change.

Cambridge Train the Trainer FAQ

If you are interested in professional development courses leading to certificates issued by Cambridge Assessment English, you may have come across the following framework of teaching qualifications. This image is a simplified version of a table that can be found in the Delta handbook for tutors and candidates:

Cambridge Train the Trainer FAQ

Even though Train the Trainer is an advanced qualification, there isn’t much information available on the most relevant website, so teachers on social media keep asking for more details. I have just finished this course with IH Lima, and I hope that those interested in obtaining this qualification will find my post helpful. Please note that this article is based on my personal experience and online research, which means that you should always double check everything with an authorised course provider.

Why is Train the Trainer placed slightly higher than Delta on the framework?
Good question. Train the Trainer is definitely not that demanding! I believe the main reason is the fact that Delta is supposed to make you a better teacher, but it doesn’t prepare you for being a trainer. I guess the idea behind this is that you should at first reach a certain level of development as a teacher before getting involved in training.

Do I need to have a Delta to take this course?
No. Having a Delta is an advantage, but the course provider may accept candidates with other qualifications. The course is aimed at experienced teachers interested in teacher training, and each application is evaluated individually. I am sure that having Delta Module One and Three certificates helped me compensate for my relative lack of experience and get accepted onto the course.

Do I need to have training experience?
Again, it’s desirable but not obligatory. I had delivered just a couple of workshops before taking the Train the Trainer course.

I have been training teachers for many years. Should I take the course?
There were some experienced teacher trainers on my course, and their comments were really positive. Many trainers receive very little support and have to figure out a lot of things by themselves, so they will benefit from receiving formal training.

What areas does the course deal with?
The Train the Trainer course comprises these six modules:

The training class focuses on the main differences between teaching students and training teachers.
Analysing and designing training sessions will show you how to plan a variety of input sessions.
Delivering training sessions is the most practical part of the course. You may be asked to plan and run a mock training session.
Observing teachers consists of watching a recorded lesson and analysing it as if you were the observer.
Managing feedback helps you identify various ways of giving oral and written feedback to teachers. You analyse a recorded feedback session as well.
Course planning and trainer development goes beyond standalone sessions and teaches you how to plan longer courses. You also receive advice on further professional development opportunities for trainers.

How long is the course?
Approximately 30 hours. There are even intensive week-long courses for those who can afford to take time off from work. I chose a course that lasted 8 weeks and consisted of 4-hour Zoom sessions every Sunday, so it didn’t interfere with my job.

What do I have to do to pass the course?
When it comes to the course delivered by IH Lima, you just have to attend all the sessions. Other providers might have other criteria, but there is no final exam and you don’t need to produce any written documents to be sent to Cambridge Assessment English.

How can I learn something from a course without formal assessment?
The course is structured in such a way that you can’t just sit back and listen to other people. In addition to your tutor’s input, there are many tasks you have to complete and plenty of interaction with other trainees. I enjoyed talking to experienced teacher trainers and I feel that I have learnt a lot from them.

Is the course standardised?
Other bloggers have taken the course with different providers, and it seems the course content was pretty much the same. I recommend reading Rachel Tsateri’s reflections and James Fuller’s series of eight blog posts with information about each session. My tutors used materials provided by Cambridge Assessment English, so I don’t think there will be huge differences between courses.

Do I have to work for the centre running the Train the Trainer course to be accepted as a trainee?
No. The course is open to external candidates as well. Most of my colleagues on the course were from Peru, but there were also participants accessing the Zoom meetings from Ecuador, Uruguay, Scotland, and Bangladesh. I was the only trainee based in Colombia.

How can I find a course provider?
I think Cambridge Assessment English could do a little bit more to promote the course. Unfortunately, you can’t find course providers using this otherwise helpful Find a teaching qualification centre search tool. Google doesn’t always help because there are other courses of the same name that aren’t related to teaching at all. What you have to do is look for training centres running Delta courses and check if they offer Train the Trainer as well. I have found the following providers:

South America: IH Lima, São Paulo Open Centre, Seven
Europe: ACE TEFL, Applied Language Studies House, CELT Athens
Asia: Apollo English, ATI Ankara, ICD Lahore, ITI Istanbul
Africa: Britishey
Australia: Lexis

This list is by no means complete. If you would like me to add other providers, please get in touch and I’ll update this post.

What can I do with the Train the Trainer certificate?
You become eligible to train teachers on the CELT-P and CELT-S courses.

Will this course help me become a CELTA trainer?
Not directly because you have to go through a separate training process for that. You can read this series of posts written by Anthony Gaughan for more information. That said, the knowledge gained on the Train the Trainer course definitely applies to CELTA trainers too, so I suppose having this qualification on your CV may increase your chances of becoming a CELTA trainer in the future.

Is taking this course online a good idea?
I don’t think that attending the Train the Trainer course through Zoom represents a major issue. Our tutors used this platform in an effective manner, and I really enjoyed the activities we were asked to do in breakout rooms.

However, it was quite disappointing to see that the materials weren’t adapted to the online environment at all. We simply received the handouts that are used on in-class courses as PDF files. Some trainees actually printed them out, which of course meant that they couldn’t share their notes on the screen. The handouts are full of useful information, but working with them wasn’t a user-friendly experience. I believe that the materials should have been shared as Word documents or made editable by using a tool such as PDFescape.

That was my only criticism of the course; I found the content very useful for my professional development, but I think that persisting with the PDF file format wasn’t a step in the right direction. I don’t know how exactly other course providers share the materials, so I recommend that you ask them about that during the application process.